I normally spend holidays with family and friends, but one Thanksgiving I decided I wanted some quality time in the spa to come down from a busy schedule. I booked some time at the Aquaterra Spa inside the Surf & Sand Resort in Laguna Beach as it was someplace I hadn’t been before, and by the looks of their website and their menu, it all sounded lovely. The Surf & Sand is an upscale beach resort, somewhere in the higher end of the mid-range of nice resorts in south Orange County. I expected the spa would be like its close competition (Spa Montage, the Spa at the Ritz-Carlton for starters) — but the competition nearby is tough and extremely hard to beat.
The website now says “Aquaterra is an intimate Laguna Beach spa” — intimate meaning “small.” There are eight treatment rooms, one ocean view couples room, a cozy “Nail Nook” (read: corner) with two pedicure areas, and a manicure table. When I got into the spa itself, it became pretty clear that this was a service that the hotel was providing to its guests, as if to say, “Look, we have a spa” and drive them to another place on the resort where they could spend money.
The spa is very small and it barely has any amenities. First, they had just one steam shower inside and it wasn’t working properly. It wouldn’t even turn on when I was using the spa. Later it turned on, but the people using it complained that it wasn’t even hot steam. There was a nice outdoor jacuzzi for both the men’s and women’s lounges, but it used chlorine and just smelled like bleach. There was no quiet room, just a co-ed lounge, which thankfully also had a small outdoor portion. Nothing looked out onto the ocean on that floor (treatment rooms are upstairs) and everything was walled off so you couldn’t see anything outside the spa walls. The hotel and the spa’s location sits very close to the Pacific Coast Highway so all the street noise can be heard while sitting in the outdoor hot tub.
The women’s area is very small. This often happens with hotel spas because they figure most of their spa-goers are staying at the resort, so they will use the facilities in their hotel room. This unfortunately means that all spa-goers have to deal with small lockers cramped together in a small space, and Aquaterra doesn’t even provide benches or hooks or any place to put your things. There were two sinks, two showers and just one toilet. In terms of toiletries, Aquaterra provides the bare necessities, but then it wasn’t clear where to put things after — no basket or drawer for used brushes, and no separate bin for washcloths near the sinks. The bath towels were very small, not even regular sized towels. Come on, Aquaterra. This is an upscale hotel by the beach, in Laguna Beach. Surely you can provide better towels and amenities for your guests.
At least the treatment room I had for both treatments was large and spacious, and had a bathtub with a window over top of it looking out onto the the ocean — which would have been really nice had I had a bath. I got to enjoy the view for a minute before and after the treatments.
I booked two treatments for my Thanksgiving spa journey at Aquaterra. First, I received the 60-minute Aquaterra Signature Massage ($155). At the time, the spa described their signature massage as a full-body massage service that incorporates deeply relaxing and circulation-stimulating techniques, warm aromatherapy towels, and gentle acupressure point stimulation. (Now there’s only a bullet-point list as a description for their treatments) The massage therapist seemed new and not very confident at what she was doing. I told her I was good with pressure and she only turned it up one notch, and it still wasn’t very firm. So I got a very relaxing rub-down and not much muscle therapy. Maybe this signature massage was designed to be relaxing as opposed to therapeutic, so I probably got exactly what was described, and I was pretty relaxed afterwards. Although I don’t normally book such gentle treatments (even the scrubs I normally get are somewhat rigorous and deeply exfoliating) it was nice to have a pure relaxation massage. The scalp massage I received was actually better than most I have received, but it was way too short.
After the massage, I had The Essential Oil Melt (60 minutes, $165) body treatment. There was a description for this treatment at the time of my visit, and it read: “The skin is prepared to receive the hydrating benefits using a gentle, loofah hand exfoliation followed by a luxurious application of organic aromatherapy oils mixed with Remineralizing Body Creme to relieve muscle tension, promote detoxification and hydration. Gently warmed beach stones help the product penetrate deep into the skin. While cocoon wrapped, enjoy a head, neck and shoulder massage to complete the service.” Now the bullet point list reads:
- Loofah exfoliation
- Gently warmed basalt stones
- Cocoon wrap
- Head, neck & shoulder massage
I think I like the previous description better, but maybe it was too much to read for some people.
The Essential Oil melt was another gentle treatment. I’ve had more thorough exfoliation at home with store-bought scrubs. Both treatments were supposed to have aromatherapy using essential oils, but I didn’t smell anything, even when she put the oils up to my face and told me to take a deep inhale.
I had the same therapist and room for both treatments and it could have been more seamless. They did happen one right after the other, but there was a 10-minute break in between while she changed the sheets and prepared for the semi-wet treatment. Had it been planned a little better (maybe a more seasoned practitioner would have done it differently) all that prep for both treatments could have been done beforehand, I could have stayed on the same bed, and the sheets would not have to have been changed. It seemed like a bit of a waste. It just interrupted the flow of the service.
It was Thanksgiving Day when I visited Aquaterra, and all the staff were friendly and pleasant during my visit. When I booked and couldn’t get the treatment I really wanted, they were apologetic and tried really hard to give me a service that was similar.
Despite the fact that she seemed new and somewhat unsure of herself, my massage therapist was a good listener. She remembered that I originally wanted the ginger-based body treatment, so she tried to incorporate ginger oil into both sessions for me and make it like the treatment I had wanted but couldn’t get.
I spent over $300 including tax and tip for my time at Aquaterra and it was completely and sadly unremarkable. The treatments were just OK, nothing spectacular. Even the aromatherapy was lacking distinction. There wasn’t a lot of space to relax at the spa and half of what they had wasn’t even working. For a hotel spa with so much competition within 5 miles, you’d think they’d try harder but I guess the spa is just another afterthought for their resort guests.
- Indoor steam room
- Outdoor hot tub
- Co-ed relaxation room
- Nail services
$$$ – Pricey
The Aquaterra Spa is located inside the Surf & Sand Resort.
1555 South Coast Highway
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
HOURS OF OPERATION
During peak season (they don’t indicate when that is exactly), the spa operates Sunday-Thursday from 9 am to 7 pm, Friday-Saturday from 9 am to 8 pm. In the off-season (no specifics on that either), Aquaterra is open from Sunday-Thursday from 9 am to 5 pm, Friday-Saturday from 9 am to 6 pm. They also say that “Spa hours may change without notice.”
HOW TO BOOK AN APPOINTMENT
You can book an appointment with Aquaterra online or you can call the spa at 1 (844) 993-9432.